- 2 Weeks
The historical sights along this loop north of Addis Ababa are monumental in both scale and detail – this is Ethiopia at its best. You'll need your own vehicle and driver to manage this in two weeks.
After a few days revelling in the chaos of Addis Ababa, head north to palm-fringed Bahir Dar for a day. Spend the next day at Lake Tana exploring some of the lake’s centuries-old island monasteries. Next wander the extensive ruins of crenulated 17th-century castles in Gonder. Looming 100km north, the Simien Mountains are one of Ethiopia’s most stunning national parks – spend a couple of days trekking in this sensational massif and spotting wildlife.
Push on to Aksum where pre-Christian tombs underlie splendid 1800-year-old stelae (obelisks). After two days, venture to the 3000-year-old ruins of Ethiopia’s first capital, Yeha, and to the cliff-top monastery of Debre Damo. Then head south and search out Tigray’s precarious and stunning rock-hewn churches. A short hop to the south is Mekele, which is the obvious launching pad for the desolate expanses of the Danakil. Back in Mekele, drive south to Lalibela. Its astounding rock-hewn churches and myriad tunnels have poignantly frozen 12th- and 13th-century Ethiopia in stone. After three or so days here, it’s back to Addis Ababa.
- 3 Weeks
While most visitors come to Ethiopia because of what’s on offer in the north, it’s just as rewarding to point your compass south with its fine landscapes and rich interplay of cultures.
You could start with the impressive rock-hewn church of Adadi Maryam. Then head south to World Heritage–listed Tiya, one of southern Ethiopia’s most important stelae fields. Little is known about their significance; some of them are engraved with enigmatic symbols, which adds to the sense of mystery. Next stop: Lake Hare Sheitan, some 50km south of Tiya. It’s a circular crater lake filled with deep-green waters – very photogenic.
Southwestern Ethiopia’s largest city, Arba Minch is a good base if you want to explore the nearby Nechisar National Park, where you’ll have a good chance to spot gargantuan crocodiles, zebras, Swayne’s hartebeest and the odd Abyssinian lion. From Arba Minch you can also detour up the mountains to see the woven houses and traditional lifestyle in a Dorze village and then continue south and visit the amazing, fortresslike Konso villages, at the gateway to the cultural riches of the Lower Omo Valley.
In Omo, visits to ethnic villages such as those of the Mursi above Mago National Park, the Karo northwest of Turmi and the Daasanach along the mighty Omo River at Omorate will transport you to another world; as will the important markets in Jinka, Dimeka and Key Afar. If you’re lucky, a Jumping of the Bulls ceremony will be happening during your visit.
Slip east before turning north for a night lakeside in modern and orderly Awasa. Then it’s time for some remote trekking amid Ethiopian wolves and superb scenery in Bale Mountains National Park and around Dodola.
See the hot springs and flamingo flocks in Abiata-Shala Lakes National Park before unwinding in a lakeside resort and doing a bit or birdwatching at Lake Langano. Stop at Lake Ziway to see hippos, birdlife and island monasteries. You could spend another night on a lake at Debre Zeyit before returning to the chaos of Addis Ababa.
The Wild West
- 2 Weeks
A journey out into the lush, green west is one for trail blazers, with splendid mountain and lowland scenery, a taste of the south's fascinating cultural mix, and some coffee explorations en route.
Leaving Addis it’s a short and easy drive to Mt Wenchi where a crater lake and a beautiful day walk awaits. Next head past golden fields to bustling Jimma and its museums. Stop off overnight in Kafa Biosphere Reserve for a day trek and a visit to the coffee museum, whereafter a long day’s driving south will take you deep into Surma country and the village of Kibish. After a few days, venture into the wilds of Omo National Park in search of wildlife and wild landscapes, then up to the Bebeka Coffee Plantation. Drive along misty mountain ridges and through dense forests before descending into the steamy lowlands to fascinating Gambela, home of the Nuer and Anuak peoples. From Gambela you have two options – complete the loop by heading back to Addis via Nekemte and Ambo, which makes for a scenic mountain ride, or flying back to Addis from Gambela.
Ethiopia & Djibouti's Greatest Hits
- 2 Weeks
If you only have two weeks but want to see the best that Ethiopia has to offer, this is the itinerary for you, with a good mix of historical sites and towns, fabulous landscapes and wildlife, with some high-altitude trekking thrown in.
Spend a full day in Addis Ababa, long enough to sample its museums and fine restaurants, then fly to Gonder, one of the country's most monument-rich historic towns. Then it's on to Simien Mountains National Park for Ethiopia's best trekking and fine wildlife-watching. It's another short flight to Lalibela, then plan on a minimum of two days exploring the rock-hewn church masterpieces for which Lalibela is known. Then head north to Mekele, en route to a couple of nights in the Danakil Depression. Fly from Mekele back to Addis, where you may have to stay overnight, then fly east to Dire Dawa and stay long enough to catch onward transport to Harar, one of Ethiopia's most intriguing cities. With a few days still up your sleeve, return to Dire Dawa for a flight to Djibouti City and a three-day tour of Lac Abbé, Lac Assal and the Goda Mountains. Finish with a flight back to Addis.